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Episcopalians

A Christian denomination with roots in the United Kingdom, Episcopalianism stands within the Reformed tradition of Protestantism. The Episcopal Church is the representative of the Church of England (or Anglican communion) in the United States. Prior to the American Revolution, the Church of England was the established church in several of the middle and southern colonies. When the Revolution began, the Church of England was the second largest Protestant denomination in America (behind Congregationalism). The political and social upheavals of the 1760s and 1770s in America put the Church of England, with its powerful connection to the British imperial presence in the colonies, on the brink of extinction. More than any other denomination, the Church of England in America divided over the War of Independence. Clergy and laity divided between patriots and loyalists, and in the aftermath of the Revolution and the break with Great Britain, thousands of loyalist clergy and laity left America for Canada or other British possessions, leaving the church severely weakened. State legislatures moved swiftly to disestablish the church, removing its favored status. Without state financial support and ordained clergy, dozens of parishes closed down. As a denomination tied to the British monarchy and aristocratic traditions in a county awash in a sea of republican ideas, the church faced an uncertain future. Between 1783 and 1789, remaining clergy and laity succeeded in refashioning the denomination by preserving the distinctive theological and liturgical features of Anglicanism while shedding elements that bound it to the British government. They adopted a modified version of the Book of Common Prayer and established a form of church government that preserved the episcopacy but allowed for considerable local and lay authority. Nevertheless, the Episcopal Church struggled for adherents in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Anti-British feeling, which peaked during the War of 1812, contributed to slow institutional and demographic growth, as did the clergy's lukewarm response to the Second Great Awakening. Revival came in the 1820s with the leadership of John Hobart and other new clergy who had not experienced the old colonial establishment. The church experienced institutional growth in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, but theological conflicts between high church, low church, evangelical, and Anglo-Catholic factions plagued it throughout this period. Unlike other denominations, Episcopalians did not divide along sectional lines over race and slavery, as the clergy sought to maintain their distance from the political and military crisis facing the nation in the 1850s. When the South seceded and the Civil War commenced, Episcopalians in the South formed their own Episcopal Church, but Episcopalians in the North sought to temper its response to this and the Union cause, allowing for a swift reunification at war's end.

David L. Holmes, A Brief History of the Episcopal Church (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1993), 37, 35, 38, 44-45, 51-57, 59-60, 64-75, 76-80; Glenn T. Miller, "Episcopal Church," Dictionary of American History, rev. ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976), 2:455.